Saturday, March 21, 2009

Kosteniuk Simul

Alexandra Kosteniuk gave a 20 board simul today at the British International School to benefit the US Chess Trust. Jim Eade very generously sponsored one of my students, and Beatriz Marinello invited a second (Ezequiel Quinones and Alexis Paredes).

view of the East River and the 59th Street Bridge from the school's library, where the simul was played.

World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk

I know no one will agree with me, but this was my favorite picture, for some reason I really love her expression here. I feel like she has such precisely regular features that her face is a little boring when she's just smiling, but she has a much more interesting expression in this photo.

Kosteniuk thinking in her game against Alexis. I thought he looked very nice in his vest.

Tanisha Millan, Ezequiel Quinones, Anna Matlin, Eve Zhubinskiy (sorry if misspelled!)

Alena Katz on the far left. Do you know there are three different E/Alena Katz's? This one is 15, short, quite strong, wears a lot of gothy eye makeup and has a big smile. Another is at Yale and is Ben Katz's sister. The third is 1900 and goes to some technical college in Brooklyn. I think that's right at least.

Ezequiel Quinones

Alexis Paredes, the only person to draw the World Champion! Hurray!

steam going home

So I was very impressed with Alexandra Kosteniuk. I was prepared not to be, just to the extent that her website image is so massively self-objectifying. But she was doing this for free, she was patient, friendly and pleasant to everyone, and seemed relaxed and impressively professional. She took some questions before the simul and was patient and uncondescending with the stupid questions, and geniunely spent some energy trying to give a thoughtful answer to the less stupid ones. She gave everyone an unlimited number of passes in the simul and was prepared to let Alexis think as long as he wanted when he was the last player and had a better position. (After ten minutes the organizer, Beatriz Marinello, stepped in with a Chronos set for five minutes each. But Alexandra looked absolutely unpeturbed at the prospect of playing indefinitely, and I give her a lot of credit for that.)


Tony Cortizas Jr said...

re: the pic of the World Champ you like... her expression is exactly like the look Tiger Woods gives when a photographer dared to take a pic during his drive off the tee - those SLR shutters are noisy.

I like the shot of Alexis, the boy who drew.

Granny O'Doul said...

One of the Katzes is Allana or Alanna. But you can call them all Allie Katz.

Mark Howitt said...

Yeah, I've seen Kosteniuk's site qutie a bit... on surface does seem quite 'poster chess girl' but when you dig deeper it's pretty evident she does care about chess, and children. A lot of girls who play chess look good (in Eastern Europe and similar areas anyway) but v few have the inner strength that she does.

ATH2044 said...

My initial reaction to the "Tiger Woods" picture was similar; I wondered what was going on that got her so torqued up. While I was looking at the other simul pictures on my computer, two separate people commented that she was a pretty girl, so I guess she has the option to be massively self-objectifying. I had thought she was some kind of fashion model prior to her chess career, but it looks like it's the other way around. How did she manage to win the title with only a little over 2500 rating points? I didn't follow it that closely, but I guess Judith Polgar wasn't competing. Still Kosteniuk is about the best looking GM I've seen all week.
Do you suppose there's any chance of raising the participation level of girls/women in chess without going the massively self-objectifying route to help pay the bills?

Anonymous said...

so the simul was held in britain or somewhere in america? the way you stated it i'm not sure. congrats to both 318 prodigies alexis and ezequiel. also im surprised to see tanisha actually played in a tournament. it has been awhile since she has

Anonymous said...

I know an Elana Katz. She is a pastry chef. Doesn't play chess. Maybe she should start.

Brian Lafferty said...

Thank you for a wonderful report. I agree about your favorite photo.
Question: Are you doing an interview with Brian Mottershead and the other EB candidates? I would be happy to be interviewed by you if all the other candidates are offered the same opportunity. You can email me at

Brian Lafferty

Anonymous said...

"just to the extent that her website image is so massively self-objectifying"

Sounds quite a bit like another female player who runs a chess blog (if you think I'm making fun of Vicary you are clueless. Its not her)

The awful truth is that Kosteniuk is quite generous and the other person is quite awful in person.

Another interesting fact is that most of the "anonymous" comments (many disparaging Kosteniuk) posted on that other site come from the same IP address as the blog owner.

I thought that Jen S's book about female chess players said most of the same things you wrote here. People assume Kosteniuk is a bad person and are very wrong when they learn the truth.


Elizabeth Vicary said...

sorry, but I have to disagree with almost everything Brenan just said.

1. Susan Polgar's website is objectionable in certain ways: a full 90% of the comments are either idiotic or fake or both. also, it's a little cloying. but it's just not true to say that it objectifies Susan. It's mostly super GM tournament reports and boring news stories about 4th grade chessplayers in Ohio. It's not Susan arching her back in a bikini with an enormous phallic king. It's not primarily 'look at Susan as physical object.'

2. Susan Polgar is actually very nice in person. It's possible that she and/or Paul are much less nice online.

3. what did Jenn's book say that's the same as what I'm saying?

4. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be very wrong when I discover the truth.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

And I should add that Susan's website is very good for some kinds of content, and is a free service. that should mean something, the free bit. Free, totally free. don't look a gift horse in the mouth, I say. also the rate at which they post stuff is unbelievable.

Robert Beatty said...

It's funny how people always elevate themselves through the criticism of others. Since one can not really truly quantify another except in comparison with ones self. I must state that I have corresponded with Ms. Kosteniuk and she is most cordial unlike some other grandmasters I have met. Before writing to her I had the pleasure of seeing her in person at Foxwoods where she played. I didnt introduce myself because I felt uncomfortable doing so. However I must say that while she was an attractive young lady, imho, she was not a world class beauty. Just a slightly above the norm in the area of the aesthete. I was married at the time to a stunningly beautiful woman who actually was and is a much more, "OMG will you look at her", type. Ms. Kosteniuk reminds me of Muhammed Ali whom people villified because of his self promotion, and "I am so pretty", facade. However now he is considered one of the world's ambassadors. Has he changed? Probably not, just peoples opinions. Ms. Kosteniuk promotes chess in her way, giving much of herself for little or no cost. More than a lot of GMs can say. I wish her and her family much success.

an ordinary chessplayer said...

Not at all surprised that Alexandria is nice. In fact I have not yet met a GM I didn't like. At the chessboard any problems were usually caused by *my* behavior. After the game they were not so much into giving me free lessons, but if I didn't lose too badly they might even go over the game a bit. Away from the board they are exceedingly normal: sociable, not "all about chess", etc.

Elizabeth: Do you have a link to that bikini pic you mentioned?

Robert: I thought people vilified Mr. Ali because he is black, and they were anxious he might take away their OMG wife.

Anonymous said...

There needs to be a female chess version of Martin Luther King, who will tell all the socially awkward chess nerds that "I want to be judged by the content of my chess ability, not the size of my chest".
Look up pretty much any female chessplayer on and read the comments. Pathetic.

Robert Beatty said...

Perhaps Ms. Vicary is teaching her right now!

ATH2044 said...

To "ordinary chess player" & anyone else:
Well, there's this one( where the "bikini" in question is actually more of a dress thingy, & the king involved, how ever phallic, doesn't appear to be particularly giant.
Or possibly this one ( where the phallic piece is only a rook, hardly worthy of the royal treatment, so Alexandra adroitly eschews the bikini altogether for a more casual yet trendy jeans & T-shirt ensemble.
Certainly in the case of the lowly knight as shown here, ( Ms. Kosteniuk appears even to be holding off on the back arching altogether.
Finally, this one ( includes the bikini & arched back, but it seems Lizzy was mistaken about the gender of the allegedly phallic giant royal chess piece, hardly the type of mistake I'd expect from a 2100 player, so maybe Lizzy's referring to something that was published in the European edition of Marie Claire Magazine (not that there's anything wrong with that) that's now in their "members only" area.
To be fair, she did not get to be the women's world chess champion by her looks or skill with generating alluring poses, & perhaps there'd be a lot less interest in her modeling activities without the 2500+ rating attached. However our society seems to have evolved/devolved to the point where such things as how one looks in a bikini & back-arching techniques are regularly considered much more valuable on the commercial market than say knowledge of the Sveshnikov or rook & pawn endings.

Anonymous said...

Do you have a game score for the draw with Alexis, Elizabeth? Just curious. I'm glad she was courteous, there is really no excuse not to be when you are playing kids, in my opinion.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

[Event "US Chess Trust Fundraising Event With GM"]
[Site "New York City United States"]
[Date "2009.03.21"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Kosteniuk 4, Alexandra"]
[Black "Paredes, Alexis"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[PlyCount "104"]
[EventDate "2009.03.21"]
[Source "MonRoi"]

1. e4 c5 2. c3 g6 3. d4 cxd4 4. cxd4 d5 5. e5 Bg7 6. Nc3 Nc6 7. Nge2 e6 8. h4
h5 9. Bg5 Qa5 10. Qd2 Nge7 11. Ng3 O-O 12. Bf6 Qb4 13. O-O-O Bd7 14. Qg5 Rac8
15. Bxg7 Kxg7 16. Nxh5+ Kh7 17. Nf6+ Kg7 18. Nxd7 Nxd4 19. Qd2 Rxc3+ 20. Qxc3
Rc8 21. Rh3 Rxc3+ 22. Rxc3 Nec6 23. Nc5 Nf5 24. g3 Nxe5 25. Nb3 Qb6 26. Rd2 d4
27. Rc5 Nf3 28. Rd3 Qb4 29. Rd1 b6 30. Rc4 Qd6 31. Bd3 Ne5 32. Rc2 Nxd3+ 33.
Rxd3 e5 34. Rd1 a5 35. Kb1 Qd5 36. Re2 a4 37. Nd2 Qb5 38. Ree1 a3 39. Nb3 axb2
40. Rd2 f6 41. f4 Ne3 42. fxe5 fxe5 43. g4 Nc4 44. Rf2 Ne3 45. Rd2 Qb4 46. Rh1
Nc4 47. Rd3 Qb5 48. Rhd1 Qc6 49. Nxd4 exd4 50. Rxd4 Na3+ 51. Kxb2 Nc4+ 52. Kb3
Na5+ 1/2-1/2

Alexis will have an independant assignment in class for the next week to annotate the game (no engines). If he does a nice job, I'll try to post his comments.

phishcake5 said...

Congratulations Alexis! Good luck with the annotation.

Anonymous said...

Congrats to Alexis. Very cool for a young kid to draw against a GM. I wonder whether Kosteniuk's web site and/or photo ops were the result of listening to the advice of a male advisor. I've also wondered the same about Susan Polgar. And what is it about the chess world that we like our male GMs relatively unadorned (though maybe there is a Dennis Rodman of chess out there) and even accept a fair amount of idiosyncratic behavior from them but we like our female GMs "all dolled up" whether it be Susan Polgar with make up on the home page of her web site (which is a good source of chess news)or GM Kosteniuk literally dressed up like one of those dolls from around the world on the USCF web site.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth: Very nice write up and enlightening portrait of Kosteniuk.

Isn't there a school of feminism that would see Kosteniuk's cheesecake self-promotion as powerful and empowering?

Congratulations to Alexis! Before I saw the game score, I imagined the draw was a tame affair, with Alexis playing it safe. Instead, it was rock-em-sock-em robots all the way. Nice going!

Anonymous said...

What school of feminism would that be? I see what Jennifer Shahade does -- playing with stereotypical images and language (chess byatch) and turning them on their head -- as coming out of a school of feminism though I have no idea whether she does or does not. But that seems very different from the images that Kosteniuk propagates on her web site and elsewhere. On the other hand, the Kosteniuk who played at the simul and appears in Vicary's photos does not appear to be the cheesecake self promoter but a serious and generous chess player.

Anonymous said...

You may now stop pretending to be caring and sensitve and give one flying f*ck about feminism. No matter what they may say the women will think of you as a bunch of wussies and you won't get laid.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

I think there's probably a real conflict between feminism and the most obvious way for a physically attractive female world champion to promote chess.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

also, what's funny, is how the statement "It's funny how people always elevate themselves through the criticism of others." is inherently a very public criticism of someone else

ATH2044 said...

"It's funny how people always elevate themselves through the criticism of others."
Aside from the obvious contradiction already pointed out (as "funny") by HRH Vicary, that statement (above in quotes) is bogus on its face.
First off, it's not a damned bit funny most of the time & second because people don't "always" do this. In fact it would only approach credibility (not humor) if it were effective, which it is - sometimes. It's just a Sick Sad World. What's next, Chimpanzee chat rooms?

Anonymous said...

Kosteniuk uses the trope of cheesecake to reinscribe the body--and her own subjectivity--within the patriarchal, logocentric discourse of chess.

That's all I meant.

Brian Lafferty said...

Did Alexandra offer the draw? Rybka has a significant advantage to Black at the end.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

chess discourse is logocentric? really?

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth Vicary said...
also, what's funny, is how the statement "It's funny how people always elevate themselves through the criticism of others." is inherently a very public criticism of someone else

The statement is circular, granted, but that doesn't mean it is any less correct.

Anonymous said...

how can the subculture that invented figurine notation be accused of logocentrism?

Anonymous said...

If chess isn't logocentric--situated in reason, rather than the material, the body--I don't know what is.

Further, Kosteniuk employs sexuality-as-power, chess-as-cheesecake, to subvert gender hierarchies.

Elizabeth Vicary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth Vicary said...

You can't read logocentric as word centered, or language centered? that's how I heard it.

it seems like there should be ideas from literary criticism you can borrow to talk about chess theory, just in the sense that they are both interested in large groups of competing narratives, how they relate to each other, and what they can tell us about human behavior. I'm kinda drawing a blank though.

Anonymous said...

I was the one talking through my hat about logocentrism and gender. Sorry. Sometimes I just get in these moods.

When I first saw Kosteniuk's photos a few years ago, I thought they were vulgar, mindlessly self-exploitative, and just plain embarrassing. But when the topic came up in your blog, I thought, well, there might be a feminist reading of the photos that tries to rehabilitate them, as it were.

Your portrait of her was really smart. It makes me think, well, can I really blame her for playing a media game and making some money? Maybe that's what enables her to give a simul like this one for free. :-)

Anonymous said...

. . . Just to add, since Elizabeth brought up the neat notion of applying literary theory to chess:

I'm not sure that chess, ultimately, has to do with human behavior so much as chess behavior (pieces and pawns). But any given game is definitely a narrative, and it's always influenced by all of these other preceding narratives (positions have histories).

ATH2044 said...

Elizabeth, once again you've provided an interesting perspective. Ordinarily one may not consider "logocentric" as per the conventional definition to include "word centered, or language centered". However it now occurs to me that that IS (a large part of) YOUR objective reality (Does that make it inherently subjective then?) which means for you logocentric includes "language centered", "literary criticism", etc. The extension of this method to chess is probably drowned out by the myriads of more conventional thinkers seeking improvement by following incremental concrete steps to add one brick at a time to their wall of understanding.

"Further, Kosteniuk employs sexuality-as-power, chess-as-cheesecake, to subvert gender hierarchies."
I was thinking maybe she was just following the path of that legendary Brooklyn, NY resident, Debbie Gibson, "I'll never get a chance to be this cheesy again."

katar said...

Kosteniuk was pure class when i crossed paths with her at a Vegas tournament. Absolutely charming and much more attractive in person. Her very existence is good for chess. She seems to have her life together and deserves a ton of respect for what she has accomplished, imo.

Robert Beatty said...

"Take stock of those around you and you will...hear them talk in precise terms about themselves and their surroundings, which would seem to point to them having ideas on the matter. But start to analyze those ideas any you will find that they hardly reflect in any way the reality to which they appear to refer, and if you go deeper you will discover that there is not even an attempt to adjust the ideas to this reality. Quite the contrary: through these notions the individual is trying to cut off any personal vision of reality, of his own very life. For life is at the very start a chaos in which one is lost. The individual suspects this, but he is frightened at finding himself face to face with this terrible reality, and tries to cover it with a cover of fantasy where everything is clear. It does not worry him that his "ideas" are not true, he uses them as trenches for the defense of his existence, as scarecrows to frighten away reality." Jose Ortega y Gasset- The Revolt of the Masses

I realize after re-reading your blog that you did not portray the present Woman's World Champion in a negative light. You were prepared to be by your subjective view of her web site. However you werent. I also realize that I ran to defend her by my perception of who she is. I must reaize that everyone can't support my vision of reality. Perhaps I am guilty of the above symptoms. The man with a hammer who believes everthing is a nail. I offer you a draw Ms. Vicary, do you accept?

Anonymous said...

Good lord. The only thing more pathetic that chess nerds commenting on a female player's physical attributes, is a prolonged discussion of feminism utilizing postmodern mumbo-jumbo.
I want to hear more about what pseudo-random number generators Greg has used when deciding what shirt to wear that day.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think that GM Kosteniuk is BABE-A-LICIOUS!! So is Lizzie!

ATH2044 said...

"Personally, I think that GM Kosteniuk is BABE-A-LICIOUS!! So is Lizzie!"
Definitely, but in different ways.
However I'm wondering how to get game scores for the other 19 games from the simul. Supposedly these things were all recorded by MonRoi, but their site doesn't seem to have them for download.
doesn't have them (yet) either.
It's great that they scan stuff from all around the world as it happens, but it's not so great if they then restrict access to it.
Does anyone know where to find these games?

Wahrheit said...

I'm not sure that chess, ultimately, has to do with human behavior so much as chess behavior (pieces and pawns). But any given game is definitely a narrative, and it's always influenced by all of these other preceding narratives (positions have histories).

Second sentence, totally right; first sentence, totally wrong. Humans invented it as a reflection of the universal struggle, use their emotional brain to decide on what move makes them happy, and provide all of the interest, the creativity and the competition. every game is as much a human drama as a conversation.

Globular said...

Humans invented it as a reflection of the universal struggle, use their emotional brain to decide on what move makes them happy, and provide all of the interest, the creativity and the competition. every game is as much a human drama as a conversation.

I disagree. Humans invented chess as an abstraction of war. It has fights over territory, units (pieces) of differing abilities, attrition of forces, and the ultimate goal of destroying the enemy leader.

Happiness ain't got nuthin' to do with it.



Anonymous said...


We all love the human element of chess--GM personalities, the struggles and aspirations of amateur players, and so on.

When I wrote about chess being ultimately not about people, but about pieces and pawns, I was thinking in terms of literary criticism and chess, and that to critique a game, like a text, you'd be looking at the text itself (the moves), not the lives of the authors (the players). It's like a game has it's own biography, it's own history, apart from those of the players.

Wahrheit said...

@anon: Thank you for the clarification. I would be interested in seeing what an expanded textual criticism of chess would look like.

@Matt: I'll turn your statement upside down. Actually, war is just another aspect, like chess, of the Grosse Kampf (I don't really speak German as you can tell).

We could as easily say humans invented chess as a representation of the Freudian Family Drama, or that Monopoly was invented as a representation of war...but I maintain that all of these represent the first time two one-celled organisms tried to consume the same piece of another one-celled organism. It's just been struggle, struggle ever since.

Anonymous said...

Hi again, Wahrheit. I really liked when you wrote that people "use their emotional brain to decide on what move makes them happy." I think that happiness here is a lot like intuition, like Smyslov letting his "hand make the move." As one gains more and more experience, it does make one happy to sink a knight on a strong square, or to play a combination. But that kind of happiness does require practice and knowledge. It must be some reimaging happening in the brain that has to do with pattern recognition and pleasure.

ATH2044 said...

Well since no one else mentioned it in 46 comments, I thought "Steam going home" was a poetically imaginative caption.

Polly said...

That looks like it was a wonderful event, and congratulations to Alexis for his draw. I hope she can be a positive role model for girls in this country without the over self promotion. I don't want to see the Anna Kosteniuk Girl's Championship. I'd rather see an event like that named after a strong women player from the past. Maybe the Vera Menchick Girl's Championship. Sorry went off on a tangent there.

Ed Scimia said...

I got the same impression of Alexandra the one time I met her, a few years back when I worked at the USCF. She did a simul at the K-12 Grade Championships in Chicago -- she was extremely nice to everyone and great with the kids. Certainly different then you might expect based on a first impression from her website or other sources.